The penultimate time I asked the young man over the way in my narrow terraced street to close his window when he played his CDs, he replied that the legally permitted decibel level was 85 dB and that he was not above it, would I like to see the read-out on his player and, by the way, I should 'get a life'. I suggested that these particular rabbit-warren streets needed a degree of awareness of others, and he said from his window that he couldn't care less about the local community or the people in it. When I and others in the street complained about his drumming during the day, his mother explained that it was good for him to have a passion and to express it. Recently, while I was sitting in the garden reading, the several children next door and their friends were jumping on the new giant trampoline and screaming beyond my pain threshold, while nursery music played to the smallest child sitting on the grass as her father gardened. He seemed astonished that the seven-foot-high fence between us didn't keep the sound of music out of our garden and, sighing, turned it down a bit. Then I asked if the children could be told not to scream (idiotic, really, what's a trampoline for if not to scream on, but what if the screaming disturbs someone doing something else and even actually hurts?). 'Have you ever had kids?' he snapped. 'It's normal!' And I've been brooding about that normal ever since. Well, to tell the truth, I've been brooding about normal since I first learned to brood, but in this case, I suppose, the notion of the normality, naturalness and righteousness of children screaming comes in some vague way from Freud's theory of repression, and the fear of what lethal form it might return in if they were prevented from disturbing the neighbours.
LRB 19 August 2010 | PDF Download